Jimmy Page’s tectonic riffs were a crucial ingredient to the mammoth success of Led Zeppelin. Fascinatingly, the guitarist once explained how he became the master of the riff and his biggest influences which helped him reach legendary status.
Page first began experimenting with the instrument when he was 12 years old and was remarkably largely self-taught. His pioneering style was carved by meticulously studying his favourite blues musicians and putting in the hours before mastering his craft.
Throughout his teenage years, there was nothing else he preferred to do more than play the guitar, which is why he became London’s premier session musician ahead of forming Led Zeppelin.
Speaking about his earliest memories of playing the instrument, Page once remarked: “When I grew up there weren’t many other guitarists. There was one other guitarist in my school who actually showed me the first chords that I learned and I went on from there. I was bored so I taught myself the guitar from listening to records. So obviously it was a very personal thing.”
The time Page spent studying and playing with those blues records was his apprenticeship. Not only did it help him become an expert on the guitar, but it also helped establish a vision in his head of what a song should be.
In 2008, Page looked back at the Led Zeppelin reunion at London’s O2 Arena with Rolling Stone and spoke about why their songs all begin or are based around a monster riff. For the guitarist, this is a non-negotiable working method and at the heart of Led Zeppelin.
He explained: “It is something you know instinctively. It has energy and attitude. There’s sex in it as well. It was definitely my concept to have a riff-based band.”
Page then went on to discuss the artists who helped him come to the conclusion he wanted Led Zeppelin to be a “riff-based band”. The axeman added: “My influences were the riff-based blues coming from Chicago in the Fifties – Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Billy Boy Arnold records. ‘Boogie Chillen’,’ by John Lee Hooker – that is a riff. But you take it, absorb it and apply your own character, so it comes out another way.”
In the same interview, Page also explains his tone and how it has changed over the course of his career. He explained: “It varies. I’ve used pedals going all the way back, pre-Yardbirds. I was using a fuzzbox in sessions. But the engineers couldn’t understand it. Anything radical, they couldn’t deal with it. In the Yardbirds, I was trying the violin bow and the wah-wah, using distortion and echo. I had phase pedals and chorus pedals as time went on.”
Watch the footage below of Page proving he’s a riff machine on-stage at the O2 Arena with Led Zeppelin.